By Christos Malaspinas
The actions taken by the Presidency of the World Hellenic Inter – Parliamentary Association, WHIA (WHIA/PADEE) are developed in an interview with Panhellenic Post by the President of the Organization Peter (Panagiotis) Katsambanis.
Answering the questions sent to him by e-mail, Mr. Katsabanis refers to all the important issues that concern Hellenism, at this time of the Corona virus, which plagues humanity.
Investments in Greece, Abroad Vote, Greek-Turkish-Aegean, preparations for the 200 years since the Greek revolution of 1821, but also the “luck” of the General Secretariat of Hellenes Abroad (GGAE) were put on the table.
Especially on the issue of the merger of the General Secretariat of Hellenes Abroad with the Secretariat of Public Diplomacy, Mr. Katsabanis stressed: “The diaspora has made it clear that a strong and well-resourced GGAE is essential to provide a bridge between Greece and Hellenes across the world. This position is strongly supported by WHIA/PaDEE and we have made our views known to the Greek Government on many occasions“.
The questions and answers are as follows:
QUESTION: In the last elections for the presidency of PADEE (July 2019) among the priorities set by PADEE for the two years 2019-2021, as stated by President Panagiotis Katsambanis, as well as the Senator of Road Island, and vice president of PADEE, Leonidas Raptakis, was the cooperation with the new Greek government for the promotion of investment package of large American companies in Greece for the creation of jobs as well as the promotion of the issue of the vote of Greek voters outside Greece. Has any progress been made on the burning issue of promoting investment packages of large American companies in Greece?
Peter katsambanis: Despite the devastating health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been great progress in promoting Greece as an attractive investment destination. Much credit goes to the Greek government who have created a business-friendly taxation environment, cut red tape and created a fast track system for key investments.
Of course, the major deal announced in the past year has been the award of the casino licence for the Hellinikon project to the American company Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. Members of WHIA/PaDEE played a key role in promoting the project to American companies which resulted in the final competition between two large USA corporations and demonstrated a strong vote of confidence from investors who want to develop multi-billion dollar projects in Greece.
We continue to work with American, Canadian and Australian investors on projects that range from tourism and hotel projects, international education, ports, logistics, infrastructure and mining. The global economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately had an impact and has led to many projects being put on hold for the time being. But it is critical that Greece continues to make the taxation, legislative and regulatory reforms that will ensure that it remains a high priority investment destination when sentiment in global capital markets starts improving.
One major positive aspect that members of WHIA/PaDEE has continued to develop over the past few years are our links to Greek companies that are looking to export their high quality goods and services into new overseas markets. Despite the difficulties in the global economy over the past 12 months, we have successfully assisted companies to export products as diverse as food and wine, pharmaceuticals, agricultural technology, digital services and information technology. As the world starts to recognize that Greek technology companies are high quality and globally competitive, this will provide exciting new opportunities to grow employment in this rapidly growing sector of the economy
QUESTION: On the issue of expatriate voting, from abroad, are you happy as WHIA with the “solution” given by the Greek Government to vote under conditions only by some of the Greek voters abroad?
Peter katsambanis: As politicians ourselves, we recognize that sometimes making laws requires a focus on what is possible rather than what is ideal. The diaspora was disappointed that the Greek Parliament could not provide the votes necessary to give Greeks abroad the opportunity to fully participate in Greek elections. It would be completely unfair to simply blame the Greek government for this result because the governing party on its own does not have the 200 votes necessary to support the legislation. In fact, the government deserves credit for making some progress on a matter that has been stuck not just for years, but for decades.
The law that eventually passed gives some Greeks abroad some limited voting rights and this is a significant improvement on the past. The next steps are to ensure that the Greek embassies and consulates overseas are given the necessary resources to service the demand from overseas voters at the next election. The rapid adoption of technology by the Greek public sector during the coronavirus crisis, especially in relation to servicing citizens’ needs electronically, is heartening and we hope that the further development of such technology will assist in facilitating voting from abroad at the next election.
Like all other Greeks of the diaspora, WHIA/PaDEE will continue to advocate for Greek citizens living abroad to be given full voting rights in the future. This will of course require all Greek parliamentarians and all Greek political parties to act in a more bipartisan manner in the future.
QUESTION: In the context of a discussion in the parliamentary committee of Hellenes Abroad on the “200 years since the Greek Revolution”, Deputy Foreign Minister K. Vlasis and the chairman of the “Greece 2021” Committee Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki invited MPs and elected representatives of Greek origin abroad. to submit proposals, to inform the Commission about the events they are preparing, for the 200 years, but also to ask for any help that the Greek State and the Commission can offer. Where is this issue today?
Peter katsambanis: ll of our members across the world are excited to participate in the largest ever global celebration of Hellenism in history!
We have now held several online meetings with the Special Standing Committee for Greeks Abroad, Deputy Minister Vlasis and Mrs Gianna Aggelopoulou-Daskalaki to discuss the meaningful participation of WHIA/PaDEE and its members in making the “Greece 2021” celebrations a significant global event that will not only promote Greek history but will showcase the modern, positive face of Greece in the 21st century.
The support and encouragement we have received from the President and members of the Standing Committee, the Deputy Minister, the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and the Chair of “Greece 2021” has been amazing. All we have asked from the Greek State and the Commission is their moral support and the provision of promotional materials in electronic form which tell the stories of Greek independence and showcase Greece of today based on the four key themes established by Greece 2021 and the Greek Government.
I want to pay special tribute to Mr SavasAnastasiades, the President of the Standing Committee and Mr Konstantinos Tassoulas, President of the Greek Parliament, who have been the driving forces in ensuring that one of the focus areas of 2021 should be developing stronger links between the Greek Parliament and the almost 50 parliaments around the world that have elected representatives of Greek origin. After all, what better way for any person to celebrate democracy than to pay tribute to the struggle for independence of the people and the nation that gave democracy to the world!
You will excuse me for not revealing the specific initiatives that we have in mind because I do not want to breach protocol. We will finalise our program of events with the standing committee, the deputy minister and the commission in the next few months. When we do finalise the program you will be amongst the first to know!
QUESTION: Greek-Turkish is again at the forefront of the news. Is there coordination and cooperation of PADEE with the Greek Government to address the Turkish challenges and the provocative behavior of the latter in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean? How does PADEE act in the 49 national and local parliaments in 20 countries of the world where it has active members, deputies, etc.? on the issue of Turkish provocations?
Peter katsambanis: The Greek Government runs its own foreign policy as an independent nation and it would not be right for it to coordinate its activities with members of foreign Parliaments. However, members of WHIA/PaDEEhave taken a high profile public role in highlighting the aggressive, provocative and illegal actions of the rogue Turkish state in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. As you would be aware, 12 American members of WHIA/PaDEE wrote open letters to their congressional delegations highlighting their concerns and Greek-origin US Congressmen and the Hellenic Caucus continue to raise the issue with the State Department. In Australia, both I and Federal Member of Parliament, Steve Georganas, continue to raise the issue with the Australian Government. Through our very active social media presence we also continue to raise awareness of the issue to a wider audience and convey the seriousness of the issue and highlight the danger of the Turkish actions.
Let’s make no mistake. The provocative actions of the current Turkish government are not just a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of Greece, Cyprus and their people. These actions are a genuine threat to stability and peace in the whole Eastern Mediterranean region and by extension to the whole world. We will continue to be active and vocal until stability and territorial integrity is assured.
QUESTION: In the online discussion with the members of the Executive Committee of WHIA organized by the Bureau of the Special Standing Committee on Hellenism in the Diaspora (May 21, 2020), the Honorary Member of the Organization and former Member of the Swedish Parliament Sotiris Delis, posted on Facebook asking the expatriates to be informed by PADEE if the issue of Of the Secretariat of Hellenes Abroad (GGAE), which merges with Public Diplomacy, UNESCO and the Venice Research Institute, “has been discussed even informally in the Organization and called on PADEE to take a position”. What is your position on this issue?
Peter katsambanis: The diaspora has made it clear that a strong and well-resourced GGAE is essential to provide a bridge between Greece and Hellenes across the world. This position is strongly supported by WHIA/PaDEE and we have made our views known to the Greek Government on many occasions.
During several recent online discussions organised by the Special Standing Committee for Hellenism in the Diaspora we again made our position very clear. Both myself as President and several other Board members stressed the need for a strong GGAE to engage with all diaspora bodies and for the Secretariat to be fully resourced to act in a proactive manner. In response we were assured by the Greek Government that their intention was to make GGAE a stronger body in the future and empower it to actively engage with the diaspora in a more meaningful way. We await the finalisation of any proposed merger but will continue to use every opportunity to emphasise the great importance of the work the GGAE does and advocate for an enhancement of its role to better service the needs of the diaspora.